For Mohammed Shuaibe, better known as YaBoiM.O.E, it all began with a sock and a microphone.

“I wasn’t the best lyricist, I didn’t have the best concepts, I barely had equipment, but I was genuine”,    the feel-good rapper recalls of his early years in music. A teenager at the time, and living in the heart of crime-ridden Oakland, California, his goal was to create songs that could speak to an audience of like-minded others who were similarly eager to break the moulds of their violence-obsessed city. “It’s bros before hoes, or kill or be killed in Oakland,” he describes.

Today, Shuaibe’s humble beginnings are the core of his music –– an uplifting and self-reflective style of hip-hop that stands out in a genre driven by materialism and greed. Although he’s upgraded from his days with a makeshift microphone, the now 29-year-old still aims to empower others with songs that promote authenticity and self-love. “I try to make my music as real as possible,” he says. “I drive a Toyota Yaris, and I’m proud of my 9-5 job.” According to Shuaibe, he’s rapping for the middle class.

The rapper’s commitment to honest work and workers is deeply rooted. The youngest member of a stable family with strict rules and strong beliefs –– the exception, not the rule, in Oakland –– he was often misconstrued as a pampered private school student to whom success came easy. In an effort to combat this stereotype, Shuaibe picked up and left his parents’ house at the age of 21, proving to the world that he, too, could make it on his own.

The pursuit for self-made success is the inspiration behind Shuaibe’s music brand Spoiled Lyfe –– a clap back at those who judged him during his adolescence. “The whole point is to take something negative and spin it into something positive,” he explains. “The spoiled lyfe is really about working towards something and getting what you deserve –– even if that’s a 1998 Toyota.”

Shuaibe solidifies this independence through his music, which he recently started to produce himself. “Establishing your own sound, that’s what really sets you apart,” he says. “If you work with a producer, then it’s not really your own sound.” Shuaibe is adamant that the ability to single-handedly create his art is the best part about being a rapper in 2017. “You don’t need labels, you don’t need a million-dollar studio, creativity is accessible and limitless.”

With over 10 years of carefully crafted music-making under his belt, Shuaibe hopes that his messages of positivity will impact a greater audience in the months to come.

“I don’t have to be a celebrity, I don’t want to be a star,” he says, “I just want to be known as somebody who made a difference.”